Our appetites for food delivery platforms have been on the rise, enabling a number of established eateries to diversify and expand their service offering. In particular, ‘Dark Kitchens’ have gained traction in the market, with online ordering platforms such as Deliveroo, Just-Eat and Uber Eats propelling their growth and demand in our cities.
But what are Dark Kitchens, and why do we see them becoming important ingredients to the way our cities function? Particularly now delivery drivers are recognised as ‘key workers’ needed to keep the country moving during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In short, Dark Kitchens are delivery only restaurants which prepare food to be consumed elsewhere, with orders predominantly being placed via an app. Location is key, and through data driven algorithms ordering preferences for cuisines and certain establishments are being used to identify areas for Dark Kitchens to establish themselves. This has seen available small industrial estates, disused employment buildings and car parks, within proximity of residential areas, becoming desirable locations.
The rise of Dark Kitchens can be linked to the growth of the food delivery industry, which was worth £8.4bn in 2019, growing 18% on 2018 levels. App-based ordering played a critical role in this growth, with consumer research firm NPD identifying apps account for approximately 39% of delivery visits. It has grown so much in recent years, an estimated 60% of the population are active monthly users of a delivery platform. As the UK continues to implement measures to control COVID-19, more of the population could become users.
Dark Kitchens are still in their infancy and planning policy is still playing catch up, with many local planning authorities seemingly unsure about where they are appropriate. Dark Kitchen operators, such as Deliveroo Editions, have sought to shoehorn their kitchens in industrial estates, arguing that they fall under a Class B1c use class, operating on a similar basis to light industrial businesses. However, two recent appeal decisions provided a degree of guidance towards how and where Dark Kitchens should operate. The decisions at Swiss Cottage and Brighton saw Inspectors agree that Dark Kitchens should be defined as ‘sui generis’, with the key considerations for their location being noise, odour and vehicle movements.
These decisions have made it difficult for Dark Kitchens to avoid loss of employment/industrial land. Additionally, finding viable space in the right location is challenging with demand for residential/industrial floorspace in urban locations increasing.
That is why we believe other industries such as housebuilders and/or commercial developers need to recognise that Dark Kitchens have the potential to co-exist alongside their developments, diversifying the range of potential occupants and providing a USP not offered by others. Given the impact of COVID-19, there is likely going to be many more vacant premises that could accommodate a new Dark Kitchen.
In addition to playing a vital role in the way our cities function, we see Dark Kitchens as having the potential to support and diversity the culinary industry, whilst offering a viable use for various underutilised spaces in our cities.